Junior League of Waco funds “Reach out and Read”

By Beth Armstrong

Over the past week, I have scrolled through hundreds of Facebook posts about my friend’s children and their first day back to school photos. It’s one of my favorite times of the year seeing all of the excitement and hope about the year ahead in the eyes of these children: bright, smiling faces holding up signs about what they want to be when they grow up – all dressed up in their new school clothes and with freshly cut hair. As a mom of two little ones myself, how does that not pull at the heart strings just a little bit? One of the things we know of that helps prepare children for a terrific school year is the opportunity to read at home.  And, one of the things that helps establish a life-long love of reading is the opportunity to own some books of your very own.   The women of the Junior League of Waco want to help make that opportunity available to every child in Waco!

Three years ago, the Junior League of Waco began the process of selecting a single community issue to focus our efforts and resources upon. The 200 plus members chose Early Childhood Education & Development for children ages 0-3 in McLennan County to be the singular area we wanted to improve. We committed for the next 10 years to developing and expanding programs where gaps existed within the current system and establishing successful partnerships where effective collaboration and teamwork could begin. Andrew Carnegie once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” As the Junior League of Waco begins a new League year focused on impacting Early Childhood Education and Development for children ages 0-3, I can think of no better quote to represent the influence that the women of the JLW are having in this targeted initiative.

We have a rich and historical tradition of giving large gifts back to our community over the past 80 years. Whether you visit Anniversary Park in Cameron Park, the refurbished Carousel at the Lion’s Park Kiddieland, or the Butterfly Gardens in the Cameron Park Zoo, there are glimpses across this city of the tireless efforts made by the women of the JLW to improve the lives of the women and children who live here. As we enter into our 80th Anniversary year, we are honored to continue this legacy by gifting the Family Health Center a check for $80,000 to fully fund the return of Reach Out and Read to the children and their parents of Waco.  This initiative will put a developmentally appropriate books into the hands of every child ages 6 months-5 years who enters the doors of a Family Health Center clinic during each well-child visit.

ROR logoReach Out and Read began in 1989 at Boston City Hospital. It was started by clinicians, Dr Barry Zuckerman and Dr. Robert Needlman, who were working with very high risk families dealing with poverty and violence in challenging school systems. Together with early childhood educators Jean Nigro, Kathleen MacLean, and Kathleen Fitzgerald-Rice, they introduced the first Reach Out and Read Program at Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center).  Dr. Needlman found that parents who are given books and literacy guidance are four times more likely to report reading aloud at home. In 5 short years, this successful program had spread to more than 34 programs in 9 states distributing almost 20,000 books. Now in its 27th year, Reach Out and Read is available in almost 6,000 sites in all 50 states and distributes more than 6.5M books to more than 4.5M children.

Andrew Carnegie must’ve had the collaborative efforts of the Junior League of Waco, Family Health Center and Prosper Waco in mind when he said “teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.” This common vision started at the close of the last school year during a fortuitous meeting with the League’s former President, Ellen Derrick, CEO of Family Health Center Dr. Ronald Goeritz, and members of Prosper Waco and their kindergarten readiness working group. While most of our kids were out enjoying the summer break when reading books wasn’t a requirement, the members of this great team have been hard at work with the common objective of getting books into the hands of all kids and to reach uncommon results in the improvement of literacy for ALL of our children.

I know in a few weeks, we’ll have gotten back into our normal routines and will be fully engulfed in the busyness of a new fall school year, but I’d like to invite you to come and join with us as we officially kick off the Reach Out and Read program on Monday, September 26 at 3:30pm at the Family Health Center’s Tom Oliver South 18th Community Clinic (1800 Gurley Lane) where we’ll be celebrating the Junior League of Waco’s 80 years of commitment to this community.

Beth Armstrong

Beth Armstrong has been a member of the Junior League of Waco for 13 years. She now serves as President of the Junior League in addition to her fulltime job. She’s married to Chris, and they have 2 kiddos: Hunter who is almost seven and Ella who just turned two.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.



Beyond Sustainability: Transitioning to Regenerative Communities

By Lucas Land

Sustainable is one of those words you hear more and more, but seem to know less and less what it really means. Like “organic”, “green” or “eco-friendly”, sustainable is sometimes applied to products or things that don’t make sense. Can beauty or cleaning products really be called sustainable if they depend on non-renewable resources for packaging or any part of their product? Something can only be called “sustainable” if it does not deplete the resources (from raw materials to packaging to end of life) on which it depends.

In addition to “sustainable” often being used as an advertising gimmick, let me suggest that it is not enough to create a livable future. 70% of the planet’s topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. We are losing topsoil between 10 to 40 times the rate at which it can be replenished. [1] According to the Minerals Education Coalition every citizen of the United States born will use 3.11 million pounds of minerals, metals and fuels in their lifetime including copper, coal, salt, gold, zinc, bauxite and other minerals. [2] Global energy consumption is projected to continue to increase 48% by 2040, yet the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it takes 300 million years for fossil fuels to form. [3] [4] Our appetite for these energy dense hydrocarbons goes way beyond nature’s ability to form them.

So, you see, the problem is that we are already operating at an incredible deficit and sustaining the current status quo is not enough. What is required for a sustainable future are regenerative systems that work with, rather than against, nature, and that restore the resources and ecosystem services on which we depend. This means rethinking our current systems and ways of life, as well as building new systems with a different set of principles.

This rethinking must include a deeper understanding of what nature provides us and  how to protect our particular ecosystem in the Brazos Watershed. It must also provide for the people that live here. We are a part of nature. Although we are capable of the most detrimental effects on the ecosystem, we still have to provide for human needs with these new systems. However, the new systems must find ways to limit what we take from the earth and provide for the needs of everything equally in our community, both human and non-human.

I can hear someone thinking, “That sure sounds nice, but what does it look like in practice?” Glad you asked! Let me give you a couple examples, one big and one small.

First, on a large scale we can look at Waco and McLennan county and ask what are the resources in our bio-region that can help us become more resilient and less dependent on unsustainable practices and resources. The Waco Downtown Farmers Market (http://www.wacodowntownfarmersmarket.com/) has provided a rich environment for local producers to grow their businesses. Many of these, such as Heritage Creamery, source their ingredients and raw materials from other local producers. This helps grow and strengthen our local economy which in turn makes us more resilient as a community.

On a much smaller scale, we can each think about the spaces around the places where we live. For too long the American lawn has served one primary purpose: to be greener and more beautiful than the neighbors. In pursuit of this goal homeowners pour on 10 times more pesticide per acre than conventional farmers in the U.S. [5] Landscape irrigation accounts for one-third of all residential water usage, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day. [6] In fact, lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the U.S. covering more acreage than corn, wheat, or soy. [7]

On the other hand, yards are great places to grow food, raise chickens, plant native plants, provide habitat for birds and wildlife, as well as look beautiful and provide space to play and relax. Many plants and trees can serve more than one of these purposes at a time. My rule is that if you have to water it, you should be able to eat it! Rain gardens can be used to better manage storm water and runoff from downspouts and other areas. You can learn more about how to make your lawn more sustainable by getting involved with the HOT Urban Gardening Coalition , McLennan County Master Gardeners  and HOT Master Naturalists.

It will take all of us working to change the way we think about our individual choices and the systems that provide both the food, gadgets and transportation we depend on in order to move beyond sustainability to a future where our ecosystem has been restored and our lives work with rather than against nature.

Lucas LandLucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


[1] “What If the World’s Soil Runs Out?” in Time Magazine Dec. 14, 2012 (http://world.time.com/2012/12/14/what-if-the-worlds-soil-runs-out/)

[2] http://www.mineralseducationcoalition.org/mineral-resource-statistics

[3] http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/

[4] http://www.fe.doe.gov/education/energylessons/coal/gen_howformed.html

[5] https://www.fws.gov/raleigh/pdfs/Homeowners_Guide_Frogs.pdf

[6] https://www3.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/outdoor.html

[7] http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Lawn/lawn2.php


Workshop in Business Opportunities (WIBO) helps entrepreneurs get the skills to keep the doors open

by Cuevas Peacock

I fell in love with Waco somewhere in between Elm and Austin Avenue. Perhaps it was while grabbing a bite to eat at Xristos Café, and then dessert at Hey Sugar. Maybe it was while getting a hair cut at the Jockey Club before visiting Suit City in hopes of finding a fresh outfit to compliment my fresh cut. Or it could’ve been at the Magnolia Market amongst the thousands of visitors who had traveled miles upon miles to Waco as a result of their appreciation for a loving couple dream come true. My love for the city only grew as I expanded outside of the downtown footprint and began spending my Saturday afternoons enjoying the Bistec a La Mexicana at Rufi’s Cocina topped off with ice cream from La Nueva Michoacana. While there are number of factors resulting in Waco holding a special place in heart, the most significant will forever be its entrepreneurs.

Our city is home to a collection of go getters who refuse take for no for an answer as they work to achieve their dreams of ownership. It is a community of business owners I have grown to appreciate during my AmeriCorps VISTA year of service with City Center Waco, and that the organization seeks to strengthen. In all professions, there is an amount of training one must undergo to obtain the knowledge needed to reach the desired level of success. Doctors go to medical school; lawyers go to law school, however far too often the only training entrepreneurs receive are the lessons learned after failing. Recognizing the opportunity to provide additional readiness programs for small business owners, City Center Waco is excited to announce its adoption of a new entrepreneurial training program, the Workshop in Business Opportunities (WIBO).

WIBO is based on the idea that people with an entrepreneurial spirit can be taught how to start and grow a profitable business through a curriculum designed to provide knowledge, create networks and build capacity to access capital. The program is open to anyone, but specifically targets low-income, underserved communities including minorities, women, veterans, and the formerly incarcerated. Since its creation in 1966 WIBO has developed nearly 17,000 entrepreneurs resulting in the creation of almost 35,000 jobs in cities across the country. 75% of new businesses are up and running within a year of completing the program. For those already in business, 42% see an increase in revenue after graduating. Knowing of the program’s success nationwide, City Center Waco felt charged to bring the opportunity to our local entrepreneurs.

WIBO participants are educated by seasoned industry professionals on a range of topics relevant to the success of their business. What’s most exciting about the program is its track record in increasing a business’s ability to keep its doors open. Graduates were almost three times as likely to still be in business after five years, compared to those who fail to go through a similar training. Through the adoption and implementation of WIBO, City Center Waco will assist McLennan County area small business owners and budding entrepreneurs obtain financial success by starting, operating, and building successful businesses that develop economic power, provide jobs and improve communities.

For more information on the Workshop in Business Opportunities and ways to sign-up or contribute as a sponsor please contact City Center Waco at 254-754-8898 or via email at info@citycenterwaco.com

Cuevas PeacockCuevas Peacock is a community builder with dreams of becoming a poet, for he was once told that they are life’s last true teachers. Hailing from Port Arthur, the only place where oil and water mixes, Cuevas serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA with City Center Waco. Through this role he is able to focus on two of his greatest passion’s neighborhood association’s and entrepreneurs.

Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


Where are Waco’s public pools?

by Rachel Lynne Wilkerson

1910 post card showing the artesian-fed pool at the Natatorium Hotel in Waco.

1910 post card showing the artesian-fed pool at the Natatorium Hotel in Waco.

Spectators familiar with the BSR Cable Park’s rise to internet celebrity a few summers ago might be surprised to learn that Waco has been a destination for water activities for a century. Before lazy rivers and slides that launch swimmers into the air, the Waco Natatorium built by Confederate army veteran Robert B. Parrotton at 4th and Mary Ave. offered mineral waters and baths. The indoor pool enticed bathers from all over to travel to Waco for a dip long before Waco was a viral water slide sensation.

Pools are critical gathering places for children and families in the summer months when school is out of session. They provide employment opportunities for older children, recreational activities for the whole family. A recent UK study found that swimming provides a positive boost on well being comparable to going to the library or playing music. Swimming is good for our physical, emotional, and social well-being. Additionally, public pools and baths in Waco and beyond have always played a tremendous role in creating community space. The ancient roman baths are the modern day equivalent of community centers—a place for lively discussion and a healthy exchange of ideas.

With these benefits in mind, I’d like to pose a question: why doesn’t Waco have more public pools?

This was one of the first questions I asked moving back to Waco three years ago. While the options for high-flying (and high-priced) water parks abound, I couldn’t find very many public places to swim laps. The public options seemed limited to the local Ys with limited time tables. The Center at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, built in an old Y, offered an indoor pool at the odd length of two thirds of the standard competition dimensions. No city pools were in sight.

City officials have given various explanations for the closing of the pools: outdoor swimming pools are out of vogue, city-operated swimming pool usage is too low, refurbishing the pools would require raising taxes, splash parks are the best substitute. And yet, the absence of public pools is increasingly noticeable and a real loss as high summer in Central Texas continues.

playdium-headerWaco’s strained relationship with public city pools, and its history of valuing big ticket amusement water parks echo underlying tensions across neighborhoods in the city. Residents informed me that Waco closed all of its public pools over the last two decades. The last pool closing is well known as the site for Hawaiian Falls. Whatever their cost constraints for traditional outdoor pools, The City of Waco contributed 2.5 million to the construction of Hawaiian Falls. For those unable to travel to the park or pay the entrance fee, Waco offers splash parks. I do not have the numbers to substantiate the City’s claims on the sustainability of outdoor pools, but I know that pools thrive in some other mid-sized and small cities, the Playdium Pool in West for example. As a lifelong swimmer and proud Texan, I can tell you that no one, for a moment, thinks a splash park is equivalent to submerging into a chilly summer pool on a hot Texas day.

The city of Waco and its residents have the chance to mend a longstanding rift. In 1964, the Waco Community Relations Committee, succeeded in desegregating all City park and recreation facilities except swimming pools. The current options for cooling off in the summer heat are geared towards a mobile segment of the Waco population—those who can pay the entrance fees and have access to transportation. Waco deserves better. To Dr. Roger Olson and other community advocates, city pools are “a local justice issue.” As Waco grapples with its history, community pools could be a step towards mending fissures in our community.

Pools aren’t cheap, but the merits of communal space, shared conversation, and a way to cool off in the summer outweigh the costs. The portrait of Waco as a water wonderland is not the whole story; our city has limited recreational options for children in the summer. Pools are a natural common space for parents and families to gather, for sun-soaked friends to exchange ideas, for each of us to meet people outside of our own ruts of social circles.  Traditional city pools are vital to communities, and Waco residents, all Waco residents, deserve access to public pools.

Rachel Lynne Wilkerson studies statistical modeling with an eye towards applications in the food system. A staunch advocate for pie as a catalyst for gathering neighbors together, Rachel thrives on open water swimming and front porch conversations.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

Circle of Security: Supporting The Sacred Vulnerability of Embracing a Child

By Brett Greenfield

As a social worker the most consistent aspect of my job is that I am constantly learning something new. Something I have learned through working with families is to measure time not in months, weeks, days, or even hours, but moments. Life is filled with infinite moments that together craft stories, memories, purpose, and meaning for every one of us. These moments, whether shared with others or experienced in solitude have the capacity to change the course of an entire life, or merely pass by without the slightest hint of significance. When life is measured in moments beauty is found in the mundane, space is created for joy, sorrow, and every emotion in between, and hope is revealed amongst the darkest of times.

Working with foster and adoptive parents there is this moment for me that is always incredible. It is a moment during a phone call, just after asking a foster parent if they are willing to accept a child into their home…and they pause. This pause, sometimes seconds and sometimes seconds that seem like minutes, is nothing short of sacred. In these ever brief moments of silence, usually followed by questions about specifics and logistics, something truly remarkable takes place. The unspoken emotions of those moments are gravitas. Fear, courage, heartbreak, bravery, and compassion burst at every seam of the seemingly empty space. Moments like these are one of many that foster and adoptive parents experience that are often incomprehensible to others. These moments are also the first of many experiences between a child and a family, both of whom start out completely unknown to one another. The countless experiences that follow can be equally as unknown, and are just as sacred.

This pause is so significant because it is so familiar. Every person finds themselves at one point or another facing this same sense of the unknown, and these moments of pause take place when vulnerability is being asked of us. The unknown is such a vulnerable space, and yet is intricately intertwined with every relationship. Every family I encounter, be it the grandparents raising their grandchildren, the first time mother beginning a new journey of parenting, the foster family courageously raising a multitude of children even when that time is limited, the large family with many children, the parents of children with special needs, the adoptive families weaving together their own family story; any family with any story finds themselves confronted with the vulnerability of the unknown at many points along the journey.

The willingness families to wade deep into the vulnerability of embracing children is something I will forever cherish and admire. My hope is that I offer more than just admiration, and also provide support for this vulnerability as well. Experts in child welfare have long studied the effects of secure attachment in children. Secure attachment is something often taken for granted, until it is somehow lost. Many families find themselves confronted with the challenge of loving and embracing a child deeply in need of the nurture and care characteristic of secure attachment. Through these journeys of loving children a common thread is woven. Families seek a place for their stories to be heard and hope to be found.

The task of sharing stories and searching for hope can be daunting and intimidating, but hope has a way of making itself known. MCH Family Outreach is offering a new program for families of all shapes and sizes called Circle of Security. This 8-week small group program is designed to give parents and caregivers the opportunity to understand their story in new ways that reveal the hope already present in their lives. If you or someone you know is interested in meeting with other parents for this type of opportunity, please contact MCH Family Outreach at 254-750-1263 or email Brooke Davilla at bdavilla@mch.org.

Classes can be offered at a variety of locations and for groups of 8-10 parents. Examples of groups can be:

  • Foster and Adoptive Parents
  • Parents of small children
  • Parents of older children
  • Single Parents
  • Parents of blended families
  • Parents of children with special needs

Brett GreenfieldBrett Greenfield is social worker in Waco, TX. He is a graduate of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and currently serves as a Case Manager with MCH Family Outreach. He is passionate about working with families in the community and offering community education in trauma-informed care, attachment, and family relationships.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.